ALEXANDRIA, VA.—By now, everyone has seen ads for inexpensive 4K TVs, most of which are larger and cost less than the 47-inch HD set I bought in 2007. Consumer electronics manufacturers report good sales numbers for 4K TVs, even as there is little 4K content to view on them.
In the television industry, many insiders will tell you that the key to better pictures isn’t higher resolution. Improving dynamic range and color gamut will make HD look better than ever, they say—maybe even better than the improvement you get with 4K. That raises this question: What will TV look like if you can get high dynamic range (HDR), wider color gamut AND more resolution?
To find out, we talked to Michael Inouye, principal analyst for ABI Research. Established in 1990, ABI Research is a market intelligence company specializing in global technology markets. The company provides quantitative forecasting and trend analysis to quantify markets today, define strategies for tomorrow and provide insight on how technology is adopted into vertical markets. The company’s reports are compiled through a combination of hundreds of stakeholder interviews per year, technical intelligence from teardowns, years of collective market experience, vendor contributed data and end-user research.
Michael Inouye carries out research and analysis of digital content and consumer electronics devices markets, including flat panel TVs, game consoles, Blu-ray players, smart set-top boxes, and portable game players. He also conducts research into digital media covering over-the-top services and multiscreen/TV Everywhere in the home. Prior to joining ABI Research, Mike was a research analyst at MMI and In-Stat, where he researched, and produced reports and forecasts in the areas of digital broadcast satellite/terrestrial set top boxes, broadband consumer premises equipment, solid state drives, and consumer media and content.
Broadcast Engineering Extra talked to Inouye on the topic of the next-generation of televisions.
BE Extra: How did ABI Research come to do an analysis of UHD/4K TV and the possible forms improved video might take?
Inouye: We cover many facets of the CE and TV and video spaces, nearly “glass to glass” (camera lens to display), so we’ve covered the UHD space in the past. In addition, as a research company we often examine technologies and trends just on the near horizon, so the enhancements to UHD were a natural aspect of the market for us to delve into.
BE Extra: Up until now, UHD/4K TV has been all about improved resolution. How aware is the general public regarding the importance of improved dynamic range and wider color gamut?
Inouye: That is a great question! Although many industry insiders will tell you enhancements to color and high dynamic range often elicits stronger responses from consumers than resolution alone, the latter is more easily communicated to consumers. Consumers understand resolution and mobile devices help keep it fresh in the mind, but the story is different when you consider color and contrast. While more is often perceived as better, it can be difficult to explain to someone that the red they see onscreen is actually a different shade of red than the object originally filmed. New technologies like quantum dots are helping bring greater awareness to some of these enhancements but it will take time.
BE Extra: Manufacturers such as Samsung, LG and Visio have done a good job making the public aware of the improved resolution of 4K displays. Is it going to be up to them to teach the public about the benefits of wider dynamic range, improved color gamut and other potential improvements?
Inouye: One of the hurdles with consumer education is going to be fragmentation. Most of the manufacturers have and will brand their displays differently when it comes to wider color and HDR, despite efforts from standards bodies and alliances to bring cohesion to the market. For instance consumers might fixate on Sony’s Triluminos and Samsung’s SUHD branding rather than the enhancements to the picture. There are also standards issues, particularly with HDR (no standard yet), so there could be fragmentation from service and content providers as well, especially if they only support certain manufacturers. The best way, though to bring awareness to consumers is through retail displays to showcase the improvements to picture quality with these enhancements.
BE Extra: How significant will audio improvements be in the next generation of TV technology? Is improved audio being thought of as a feature for first adopters and home theater fanatics, or can it work for a wider audience?
Toshiba 4K television
Inouye: We didn’t cover the audio enhancements in this particular piece of research (only focused on video), but it is certainly one of the components. Object-based audio can certainly enhance the experience, but in terms of consumer adoption and impact I would put it lower than HDR and color. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are the primary audio formats but there are a number of hurdles for it to reach a wider audience beyond the one you cite (earlier adopters and home theater fans).
First and foremost will be the need for new hardware, and that refers to both the speakers and home theater components (e.g. AVR or pre-amp processor and amp). To get the best experience with object based audio, you need to add speakers to the ceiling, which won’t suit all prospective consumers. There are speakers like those from Pioneer that have upward firing drivers to bounce sound off of the ceiling so this is another route, although it still requires new purchases.
The other issue is content support. 7.1-surround for instance has filtered down to less-expensive home theater gear, but quite a bit of the content still only supports 5.1. The same will likely be true for object-based audio as well, at least for a good amount of time.
Consumers have also put audio fidelity on the backburner so to speak—SACD/DVD-Audio for instance never took off and the CD continues to lose ground to streaming music, most of which is at a lower quality. Consumers who do buy into the home theater experience are also favoring things like sound bars, which simulate surround sound but won’t produce the same impact as a dedicated home theater arrangement. So I believe object-based audio, while making the viewing experience more immersive, will likely remain a feature for more dedicated enthusiasts.
BE Extra: When can we expect to see new technologies (beyond simply higher resolution) in the consumer marketplace and what steps will need to happen before we get there?
Inouye: There are already TVs that support some of these features (quantum dots in a number of TVs) and more will come this year (e.g. Visio announced their Reference line will support Dolby Vision), although as stated earlier there are still some elements to nail down. With HDR for instance, there is no current standard that actually defines what it is—in other words, is there a certain luminance level the TV must hit before it supports HDR?
Current content, for example, tops out at 100 nits (or candela per meter squared) even though some displays can hit higher values—note that theatrical presentation is different and is shown at a lower luminance level, so there is a difference between HDR for the TV and what might come to theaters. Should maximum luminance for HDR reach 1,000 (or less), 4,000, or even 10,000 nits? Although color space is better defined (Rec. 2020 defines the UHD color space) there is currently no [consumer] display capable of producing the necessary color gamut to hit Rec. 2020; although the technology might achieve this later this year. That means we might see displays in 2016.
BE Extra: What else should we know about the interest in advanced television displays?
Inouye: The rollout of UHD and these enhancements will entail some maturation and unfortunately the early adopters (who already paid a premium) might feel the most pain. Even those who purchase TVs that support the “better pixels” without the proper standards in place these TVs too could face some incompatibility issues in time. The challenge will be consumer education and, as you get into details like the need for HDMI 2.0a to support HDR (HDMI 2.0 does not), things start to get over-complicated for most average consumers.
Depending on how bright televisions get, there could also be issues as viewers transition between extended periods of dark content to bright. With that being said, these issues will work themselves out. Although early adopters will face some issues (as is often the case), it should ultimately be a win-win so long as CE manufacturers and service providers can extract a premium from these enhancements.
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